Bob Marley once said, “... When music hits you, you feel no pain.” I couldn’t agree more. But it’s not just about pain; it’s every emotion, from the darkest corners of depression to the unabashed joy of a single moment in time. As someone who is constantly searching for new music, I often forget to return to the old standbys. These are the albums where the cosmos aligned, a moment where an artist somewhere in time wrote a series of songs specifically for me and my situation. Here are the five most important albums of my life.
Pet Sounds, "The Beach Boys"
This album was released in May 1966 that, according to songwriter/composer Brian Wilson, was his “teenage symphony to God.” In reality, Pet Sounds was the result of what happens when a good composer gets his hands on some really good drugs. But Pet Sounds also captures so eloquently the pain of moving from adolescence to adulthood. Maybe Wilson was able to tap into something higher? Songs like “I Know There’s an Answer” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” were almost exact reflections of my sophomore and junior years of high school: “Sometimes I feel sad ... can't find nothin' I can put my heart and soul into.” And then we have the song Paul McCartney calls his favorite: a somber reflection called “God Only Knows,” which I can’t listen to in public without fear of tearing up. “Don’t Talk, Put Your Head on My Shoulder” is just love, pure and simple. A perfect album. I hope I can take it with me to the next life.
Richard Thompson, "Action Packed: Best of the Capitol Years"
Richard Thompson was the first artist that I had to do real work to enjoy. I was 18 in 2001 and away from home for the first time and in a strange city—lost, in other words. I first heard “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” while driving, and it completely blew my mind. It was the perfect love story: motorcycles, sex, redheads and death. And the guitar, my God, I’d never heard someone play guitar like this. I picked up this “greatest hits” album on a whim and dug in. Songs like “King of Bohemia” and “Uninhabited Man” are so cryptic and mysterious that you want to listen over and over. I’ve since been to about 10 Thompson concerts. I’m always one of the youngest in the audience, and I’m fine with that. Maybe I’m an old soul, anyway.
The Everybodyfields, "Halfway There: Electricity and the South/Plague of Dreams"
My middle college years were rough. When I look back, I was just completely out of my element. I longed for solitude, which was impossible when taking hours of courses. It was 2004, and I was working at WUTC doing whatever I could to get on the air as much as possible. Robin Merritt with ArtFRONT invited me up to Dickson, Tenn., for the Americana Music Festival. There, I first met my friends Mandi Rae and her sister Ashlee-Jean. I saw The Avett Brothers (live for the first time), Old Crow Medicine Show and The Everybodyfields (surprisingly, a band from my hometown of Johnson City). Sam Quinn, Jill Andrews and David Richey were just perfect. This was music about being OK with being sad. There was also a Buckingham/Nicks element with Andrews and Quinn that made them interesting. The Everybodyfields may not be a band—they broke up after several stops and starts—but the music they gave us will live forever. I saw them every opportunity and will continue to support their solo ventures. Their songs include “TVA,” “His Pontiac” and “So Good to Be Home.” Their cover of The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” is also well worth your time.
Pink Floyd, "Pulse"
Did we all have a Pink Floyd phase? Were we all able to come out on the other side, none the worse for wear? In high school, I displayed my fandom proudly in the form of an electric pink window sticker on my teal Chevy truck. Was I a lady-killer? No, not at all. An obsession with "The Wall" has never been a direct route to the ladies. The music of Pink Floyd represented this weird, outer fringe (or so I thought at the time) where strange, cosmic things happened with lasers and random, meaning-defying images. Initially, I was hooked by the visuals from a 1995 live album called “Pulse,” in which three of four original members of Pink Floyd (excluding Syd Barrett and Roger Waters) performed at Earl’s Court in London. It’s just a concert featuring classic Pink Floyd songs and new stuff from their current album, “The Division Bell.” Now, having lived through my Floyd phase, when I return to this concert, it’s more of a nostalgic feel than an appreciation for the music. Because really, the music of Pink Floyd isn’t incredibly good. It was incredible because it was weird. Pulse helps me keep a little of that weirdness in my life. Watch the full concert.
John Hartford, "Aereo-Plain"
If I were ever going to get into bluegrass music, it was going to take something special. I was not a fan of the twang when I moved to Chattanooga in 2001. My Pink Floyd phase (see above) was just ending, and I was exploring new musical adventures. People had played for me some early bluegrass, like Dr. Ralph Stanley and Flatt & Scruggs, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I needed a gateway. And almost as if it were released to me from the heavens, I bought a CD copy of John Hartford’s “Aereo-Plain” because I liked the cover art. I was also intrigued by the phrase “newgrass,” which was how this album was described. I was hooked immediately. There is so much playful energy on "Aereo-Plain," with songs like “Holding” and “Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie.” There are also the reflective ballads, which are some of the best I’ve heard. “First Girl I Loved” is about puppy love: “I was in love with you before I knew it meant more than just wanting to be with you.” "Presbyterian Guitar" is one of the best acoustic guitar instrumentals in the history of music. A fan of riverboats, Hartford wrote many songs about them. This included a song called “The Delta Queen Waltz” about our own Delta Queen. Hartford’s music is Southern in its roots, but there’s an ethereal/worldly quality that makes it special.